The best way to master something is to just do it.
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Almost every Friday night is risotto night at my house. After months of partaking in this end-of-week ritual, I realized the value of making the same recipe week after week. It’s been one of the most effective ways of improving my cooking skills and it’s given me so much more confidence in the kitchen.
Risotto turned out to be such a fun thing to cook for an at-home date night. It takes awhile to make, but doesn’t require much effort. You just add chicken broth. Stir. Repeat. You can easily hold a conversation while doing it. And since it calls for white wine, we naturally enjoy a pre-dinner glass while we cook. It didn’t take long before risotto became our go-to dinner for Friday date nights.
What I’ve Learned
Emily Parulski/Taste of Home
The Best Way to Master a Recipe Is to Make It Over and Over
We’ve all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect.” Well, it’s true. You can watch a cooking video 10 times and read a recipe 20 times, but you won’t really know how to make something until you do it yourself. I’ve watched people make risotto on TV, studied numerous risotto recipes and even cooked risotto in a virtual cooking class led by Wolfgang Puck—but it was only through making it myself every week that I mastered the technique.
Emily Parulski/Taste of Home
Stick to One Recipe and Customize Later
If you want to master a certain dish, I recommend starting with a basic recipe and customize from there. There are tons of variations for all sorts of dishes out there—whether it’s from your favorite blogger or a classic cookbook. Instead of trying different versions one after the other, I stuck to one recipe to really familiarize myself with the technique. Once I felt comfortable, I tried other versions to see how they varied. Now, I swap onion for leeks from time to time—something I learned from Joanna Gaines’ risotto recipe.
It’s OK to Splurge on Items You Use Often
I’m a sucker for kitchen equipment. My dream kitchen would be the largest room in the house and where I could store any pot, gadget or piece of bakeware I’ve ever wanted to use. But I have a modest kitchen and need to be smart about which products I keep in my precious cabinet space. I’ve learned that the tools you use most often should take center stage in your kitchen, and it’s better to upgrade the items that get the most use.
And finally, saffron. Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. It’s not something you just throw in your grocery cart for the heck of it. Since I was making risotto every week, I decided it was worth picking up a bottle. The nice thing is that a little goes a long way—I’m still using my original bottle!
If a recipe has been on your bucket list for years, it’s the perfect thing to start making each week. If you don’t already have a dish in mind, think about things you’d like to eat every week. A loaf of homemade bread is a great place to begin. Or learn how to make pizza dough from scratch and start a Saturday night pizza tradition. Stick to something evergreen so the ingredients aren’t out of season for half the year. This time next year, it’ll be your signature recipe!
This easy beef stew recipe is my favorite. The rich beef gravy helps the hearty flavor of the potatoes and carrots to come through. It's the perfect homemade dish for a blustery winter day. —Alberta McKay, Bartlesville, Oklahoma
If you'd like to learn how to bake bread, here's a wonderful place to start. This easy white bread bakes up deliciously golden brown. There's nothing like the homemade aroma wafting through my kitchen as it bakes. —Sandra Anderson, New York, New York
I remember coming home sullen one day because we'd lost a softball game. Grandma, in her wisdom, suggested that maybe a slice of hot apple pie would make me feel better. She was right. —Maggie Greene, Granite Falls, Washington
When it comes to mashed potatoes recipes, this is one of my favorites because they can be made ahead, refrigerated and then popped into the oven just prior to dinnertime. When my grandchildren come for dinner, I have to double this recipe. They love it! —Vivian Bailey, Cedar Falls, Iowa
I've enjoyed cooking since I was a girl growing up in the Southwest. When friends call to ask me for new recipes to try, I suggest these flavorful fajitas. It's wonderful to put the beef in the slow cooker before church and come home to a hot delicious main dish. —Janie Reitz, Rochester, Minnesota
My first Wisconsin winter was so cold, all I wanted to eat was homemade chicken noodle soup. Of all the chicken noodle soup recipes out there, this type of soup is my favorite and is in heavy rotation from November to April. It has many incredibly devoted fans.—Gina Nistico, Denver, Colorado
I've found many rich and satisfying variations for boeuf bourguignon, including an intriguing peasant version that used beef cheeks for the meat and a rustic table wine. To make this stew gluten free, use white rice flour instead of all-purpose. —Leo Cotnoir, Johnson City, New York
Even people who have had their own homemade baked macaroni and cheese recipe for years ask for mine when they taste this crumb-topped version. For the best baked mac and cheese, use extra-sharp white cheddar cheese for more flavor. —Shelby Thompson of Dover, Delaware
This delectable shrimp fried rice is filled with color and taste that makes it vanish fast. Our family of four can't get enough of it. Bacon adds crispness and a hint of heartiness. Consider it when you need a different main dish or brunch item. —Sandra Thompson, White Hall, Arkansas
Want to know how to make lasagna for a casual holiday meal? You can't go wrong with this deliciously rich meat lasagna recipe. My grown sons and daughter-in-law request it for their birthdays, too. —Pam Thompson, Girard, Illinois
This cheesy, full-of-flavor omelet is modeled after one I tasted and loved in a local restaurant. Mine is so hearty and rich tasting that no one will guess it's lower in fat. —Bernice Morris, Marshfield, Missouri
My mom found the inspiration for this chili in a slow-cooker cookbook. After a few updates, all of us love it (even those of us who steer clear of beans). We think it's even better served over rice. —Amelia Gormley, Ephrata, Pennsylvania
One of my favorite childhood memories is going to the Old Spaghetti Factory with my family and ordering a big plate of cheesy spaghetti, meatballs and garlic bread. My homemade recipe reminds me of those fun times and satisfies everyone's craving for good Italian food. —Erika Monroe-Williams, Scottsdale, Arizona
Spreading a mixture of mayo and butter on the bread creates a delightfully crispy crust with the well-loved, wonderful flavor of butter one expects on a grilled cheese sandwich.—Josh Rink, Taste of Home Food Stylist
Crispy, juicy and perfectly seasoned, this really is the best fried chicken recipe, ever. Summer reunions and neighborly gatherings will never be the same. When I was growing up, my parents had a farm, and every year, Dad would hire teenage boys to help by haying time. They looked forward to coming because they knew they would be treated to some of Mom's deep fryer recipes, including this delicious fried chicken. —Lola Clifton, Vinton, Virginia
Beef enchiladas are typically prepared with corn tortillas, but my husband, Jeff, and I prefer flour tortillas. I use them in this saucy casserole that has irresistible home-cooked flavor and a subtle kick. —Jennifer Standridge, Dallas, Georgia
Dutch oven pot roast recipes are the ultimate comfort food. When juicy pot roast simmers in garlic, onions and veggies, everyone comes running to ask "When can we eat?" The answer? Just wait—it will be worth it. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen
This Asian chicken and broccoli stir-fry is a household best bet. The spicy sauce works with chicken, seafood, pork or beef. Add whatever veggies you have on hand. —Kristin Rimkus, Snohomish, Washington
These juicy steaks are a favorite meal of ours when we go camping. Let them sit in tangy, barbecue-inspired marinade overnight and you've got a rich and hearty dinner ready to grill up the next day. —Louise Graybiel, Toronto, Ontario